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Discipline and Participation: The Long-Term Effects of Suspension and School Security on the Political and Civic Engagement of Youth

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This study uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health data set to evaluate the long-term influence of school discipline and security on political and civic participation. We find that young adults with a history of school suspension are less likely than others to vote and volunteer in civic activities years later, suggesting that suspension negatively impacts the likelihood that youth engage in future political and civic activities. These findings are consistent with prior theory and research highlighting the long-term negative implications of punitive disciplinary policies and the role schools play in preparing youth to participate in a democratic polity. We conclude that suspension undermines the development of the individual skills and capacities necessary for a democratic society by substituting collaborative problem solving for the exclusion and physical removal of students. The research lends empirical grounds for recommending the reform of school governance and the implementation of more constructive models of discipline.
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Youth & Society
2015, Vol. 47(1) 95 –124
© The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0044118X14544675
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Article
Discipline and
Participation: The
Long-Term Effects of
Suspension and School
Security on the Political
and Civic Engagement of
Youth
Aaron Kupchik1 and Thomas J. Catlaw2
Abstract
This study uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health data
set to evaluate the long-term influence of school discipline and security on
political and civic participation. We find that young adults with a history
of school suspension are less likely than others to vote and volunteer in
civic activities years later, suggesting that suspension negatively impacts the
likelihood that youth engage in future political and civic activities. These
findings are consistent with prior theory and research highlighting the long-
term negative implications of punitive disciplinary policies and the role
schools play in preparing youth to participate in a democratic polity. We
conclude that suspension undermines the development of the individual
skills and capacities necessary for a democratic society by substituting
collaborative problem solving for the exclusion and physical removal of
students. The research lends empirical grounds for recommending the
reform of school governance and the implementation of more constructive
models of discipline.
1University of Delaware, Newark, USA
2Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA
Corresponding Author:
Aaron Kupchik, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware, 325
Smith Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USA.
Email: akupchik@udel.edu
544675YASXXX10.1177/0044118X14544675Youth & SocietyKupchik and Catlaw
research-article2014
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96 Youth & Society 47(1)
Keywords
school discipline, political and civic participation, political socialization
Introduction
Sweeping changes over the past two decades have reshaped the regime of
school discipline and security in the United States. Schools of all kinds and in
all parts of the country have increasingly adopted harsher, more punitive dis-
ciplinary policies, such as zero tolerance and mandatory arrest. They have
augmented their use of police, metal detectors, and closed-circuit surveil-
lance (see Casella, 2001; Cornell, 2006; Hirschfield, 2008; Simon, 2007).
Though fair and firm discipline is necessary to maintain order in schools
(Arum, 2003), research has repeatedly found that the overreliance on exclu-
sionary school punishment (i.e., removing students from schools) and crimi-
nal justice–oriented security (e.g., police in schools, drug-sniffing police
dogs) has a host of negative effects. These practices increase racial inequality
(e.g., Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2000), alienate students from
school (Fine, Burns, Payne, & Torre, 2004; Nolan, 2011), and handicap stu-
dents’ academic careers (Fabelo et al., 2011) while failing to teach students
proper behavior or better protect them from harm (Kupchik, 2010). Some
scholars (e.g., Effrat & Schimmel, 2003; Fine et al., 2004; Kupchik, 2010;
Nolan, 2011) have suggested that among these other negative effects, harsh
school discipline and rigid security practices may socialize students into
docility and obedience, whereby they accept authority of adults rather than
participate actively in political and civic exchange, though to date these sug-
gestions have not been tested empirically.
During roughly the same period during which we have observed the
increasing harshness of school punishment and rigid security, there has been
a broad call to renew and reenergize American civic and political life. This is
reflected in the substantial theoretical and empirical literatures on civic and
political engagement, deliberative democracy, and social capital, among oth-
ers (e.g., Buss, Redburn, & Guo, 2006; Creighton, 2005; Fuhrman &
Lazerson, 2005; Fung & Olin Wright, 2003; Lin, 2002; Schachter & Yang,
2012; Sirianni & Friedland, 2001; Skocpol, 2003; Skocpol & Fiorina, 1999).
It is, moreover, reflected concretely in the now established expectation
(though the reality often falls short) that governments at all levels involve the
public in matters large and small. Indeed the active exchange of information
between citizens and government is central for governmental decision mak-
ing and policy formulation (Bevir, 2006; Catlaw & Sandberg, 2012; Fung,
2006; Hale, 2011). These trends have refocused academic and practical atten-
tion on the ways in which citizens are politically socialized and how they
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Kupchik and Catlaw 97
develop the capacity to effectively participate in civic and political life
(Campbell, 2006; Rawlings & Catlaw, 2011; Rawlings, 2012; Verba,
Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). Schools figure prominently in these efforts.
These trends are at cross-purposes: Schools cannot be training grounds for
a vibrant democratic polity if they suppress the development of students’
political and civic capacities. Furthermore, there may be grave consequences
not only for the lives of individual students but also for the efficacy of the
nation’s democratic institutions writ large if schools are playing this negative
socializing role. Surprisingly, however, prior research has generally investi-
gated neither the long-term effect of political socialization of schools nor has
it tested longitudinally the consequences for students of the contemporary
school discipline and security regime.
This study uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health
(Add Health) data set to evaluate the long-term influence of school discipline
on political and civic participation. Our goal is to examine whether school
discipline discourages youth from civic and political participation in their
adult years, so that we can better understand the ramifications of contempo-
rary school discipline and security. Our methodological strategy follows
directly from and extends a publication in the American Sociological Review,
by McFarland and Thomas (2006), which used Add Health data to estimate
how youth voluntary associations influence adult political participation.
Though we share McFarland and Thomas’s overall analytical strategy, their
analysis does not consider school discipline. We hypothesize that increas-
ingly harsh security and discipline practices socialize students into docility
and obedience, whereby they accept authority of adults rather than participate
actively in political exchanges. We empirically examine this hypothesis by
studying the long-term effects of school punishment and security on students’
future levels of democratic participation.
Literature Review
Schooling and Political Socialization
A wealth of research examines the factors that contribute to the likelihood
that a young person will become active in political and civic life later in life
(Verba et al., 1995). For our purposes, we focus on two broad categories of
factors—the family and the school.
First, research establishes the importance of parents: If parents are civi-
cally engaged, children are more likely to be as well (Campbell, 2006,
Chapter 6; Verba et al., 1995); however, children from homes of a higher
socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to become civically active than
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98 Youth & Society 47(1)
children from lower SES homes. Second, formal education plays a critical
role in the “second” socialization of young people into society (Durkheim,
1903/1961) and, more particularly, school socialization is an important
dimension of producing democratic citizens (Dewey, 1916, 1909/1959;
Hartmann, 1946; Hyman, 1959). Early research on this topic focused on the
transmission of civic and political knowledge, or the “manifest curriculum,”
to students and was pessimistic about the ability of schools to alter students’
political attitudes or to encourage participation (Ehman, 1980, p. 103), though
lower SES groups proved to be exceptions (K. Jennings & Jennings, 1968;
M. K. Jennings & Niemi, 1974). This general pessimism has been com-
pounded by research that indicates that political knowledge and participation
in civil and political life may be in decline in the United States (Putnam,
2000; Skocpol, 2003) and that this decline, in turn, reinforces entrenched pat-
terns of inequality and uneven political participation across social and racial
groups (Kahne & Middaugh, 2008; McFarland & Thomas, 2006; Verba et al.,
1995). However, other research has tempered these findings (Niemi & Junn,
1998; Youniss & Levine, 2009).
Contemporary scholarship continues to emphasize the importance of civic
and political education as well as the work that schools do in preparing (or
not preparing) youth for active, engaged participation in a democratic polity
(e.g., Apple & Beane, 1999; Battisoni et al., 2003; Gutmann, 1987) and in
reproducing the values, habits, and practices of the world beyond the class-
room (Bourdieu, 1986). However, researchers have broadened their scope
beyond civic and political knowledge to consider Dewey’s (1909/1959) con-
cern for the method of education (see Dobozy, 2007) and the development of
individual capacities to participate in public life.
Researchers argue that specific “democratic” capacities and resources
(Rawlings, 2012; Verba et al., 1995) should be developed in schools which,
in turn, will assist youth in becoming politically engaged later in life and will
help to reinvigorate and deepen democracy more generally. In a review,
Apple and Beane (1999) identify seven of these capacities, including an
appreciation for an open flow of ideas, “faith in the individual and collective
capacity of people” to solve problems, critical reflection, “concern for the
welfare of others and the ‘common good,’” and a “concern for the dignity and
rights of individuals and minorities” (p. 7). The cornerstone of cultivating
these capacities is participation—that is, engagement of students in school-
related planning, decision making, problem solving, and other activities that
affect them at both the classroom and school levels. Exemplary democratic
schools tend to view students as active, rights-bearing individuals rather than
“objects to be acted upon” (Dobozy, 2007). Other education research tends to
support this view: Student engagement with such “democratic practices,”
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Kupchik and Catlaw 99
such as school-place decision making, encourages the cultivation of positive
school climate which, in turn, enables higher levels of educational achieve-
ment and related outcomes (Anderson, 1982, pp. 400-401; see also Effrat &
Schimmel, 2003).
For the most part, empirical studies of the effects of democratic capacity
building and political socialization have been case studies of individual
schools or classrooms (e.g., Angell, 1998; Apple & Beane, 1999) and/or
investigations of the effects of various democratic practices on students while
students were in school (e.g., Feldman, Pasek, Romer, & Jamieson, 2007).
However, empirical examination of the long-term effects of democratic
schooling on political and civic participation after graduation from high
school has been rare (though see Pasek, Feldman, Romer, & Jamieson, 2008;
Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003).
A significant exception is McFarland and Thomas (2006), who examined
the ways in which extracurricular activities affected civic and political
involvement later in life (e.g., voting, involvement in presidential campaigns,
volunteering in community or civic organization). They found compelling
evidence that “involvement in politically salient youth voluntary associations
has significant, positive returns on adult political participation seven to
twelve years later” (p. 412). Interestingly, classes in government and civics
did not have such effects, a finding in line both with prior scholarship and
with contemporary concern for the “hidden curriculum” (e.g., Giroux &
Purpel, 1983), or the nonconscious learning children do in the school above
and beyond the explicit transmission of knowledge (see also Ehman, 1980).
Although some researchers explore the difference between political and
civil activities (Zukin, Keeter, Andolina, Jenkins, & Delli Carpini, 2006),
they generally do not distinguish between civil and political effects (Rawlings,
2012) and so do not investigate whether particular school activities are more
likely to encourage one over the other. This is likely because both political
and civic behavior tend to be conditioned by similar familial factors and that
the primary thrust of research has been on the development of individual
capacities to engage in “public life” defined broadly. Indeed, even research
that teases out factors contributing to civic versus political behavior tends not
to test the effects of various school activities on future practice. Torney-Purta
and Amadeo (2003), for example, found differences among predictors of vot-
ing and volunteering among adolescents. Their cross-sectional analysis, how-
ever, addressed only the impact of civic knowledge and not the broader palate
of school-place activities on civic versus political behavior. A second exam-
ple is Campbell (2006), who explored the impact of community political
diversity on the long-term political and civic involvement of youth. Though
his research affirms the importance of schools in cultivating “civic norms” of
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100 Youth & Society 47(1)
good citizenship, his studies focus more on the explicit normative content of
school curricula rather than, again, the impact of ostensibly “nonpolitical”
school-place practices on later civic and political involvement.
In summary, relevant research on the effects of schooling on the political
socialization of youth has focused on classroom-level attributes, such as the
characteristics of the teacher and instructional materials, or school-level
attributes, such as student participation in school governance and extracur-
ricular activities, as well as school climate and organization (e.g., school
size, religiosity, demographic composition of schools/classrooms; Ehman,
1980). It has tended, moreover, to deal with political and civil behavior
together. This body of prior research is consistent in demonstrating a direct
positive effect of participatory, democratic, and inclusive schooling on
future political and civic engagement. Participatory, democratic, and inclu-
sive school environments teach students how to be active participants in
democratic institutions, just as parents who participate in civic society teach
their children to do so as well.
School Discipline
Since the early 1990s, schools across the United States have tightened their
security practices and increased the punishments they give to students (see
Cornell, 2006; Dinkes, Kemp, & Baum, 2009; Kupchik & Monahan, 2006).
It is now common to find armed police officers, drug-sniffing dogs, surveil-
lance cameras, and zero-tolerance policies in all types of schools and all areas
of the United States. Existing research documents several problems with
these new school discipline and security practices, including the increasing
marginalization of poor students and youth of color (e.g., Noguera, 2003;
Skiba et al., 2000), unnecessary denial of future educational opportunities
due to suspension and expulsion (e.g., American Psychological Association
Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Fabelo et al., 2011), and increases in the
numbers of students who are formally prosecuted in the juvenile and criminal
justice systems (known as the “school-to-prison pipeline”; for example, Kim,
Losen, & Hewitt, 2010; Na & Gottfredson, 2013; Wald & Losen, 2003). This
body of research consistently finds large discrepancies in punishment rates
between White youth and youth of color, where African American and
Hispanic American students are far more likely than Whites to be punished,
even when controlling for self-reported rates of misbehavior (American
Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008).
In Homeroom Security, Kupchik (2010) describes how the primary mis-
sion of school discipline is to assert the school’s authority: to enforce the
rules for the sake of the rules themselves, not for the betterment of students.
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That is, the harsh punishments and tight security we now see in schools create
conditions whereby students are disempowered and treated as objects to be
acted on—exactly the opposite of what scholars propose for a democratic,
participatory, and inclusive education (Lyons & Drew, 2006). Students are
socialized to believe that they are powerless in the face of a rigid discipline
system and that they are potential criminals rather than citizens who deserve
respect (see Fine et al., 2004; Nolan, 2011). In sum, they are taught that their
only option is to comply with the school’s authority with neither complaint
nor ability to shape their environment; in this sense, school discipline offers
lessons that are the antithesis of what prior research finds can directly and
positively influence future democratic participation.
Based on the prior research on how schools can influence future demo-
cratic participation, we fear that the contemporary school discipline regime is
preparing students for disengaged political and civic futures and that the les-
sons of compliance and obedience translate to a lack of participation once
they become young adults. Moreover, because school discipline is dispropor-
tionately applied to youth of color, we are concerned that the effects of school
discipline are particularly harmful to youth of color and their future civic and
political engagement. As Fine et al. (2004) find,
. . . poor and working-class youth and youth of color in California’s most
disadvantaged schools are being educated away from these “obligations of
citizenship” and toward civic alienation. They are learning that their needs are
irrelevant to policy makers and government leaders. (p. 2212)
Recent research by Godsay, Kawashima-Ginsberg, Kiesa, and Levine
(2012) on working-class “non-college youth” reinforces this conclusion.
Drawing on data collected from 20 focus groups with noncollege youth (ages
18-29) in four cities, their study found that these former students’ recollec-
tions of schools’ efforts to develop political and civic capacities were “over-
whelmingly and sometimes scathingly critical” (p. 34). Former students
described their schools as largely distrusting, disempowering environments.
Despite the importance of these questions for educational policy, the exist-
ing research has failed to consider how school discipline and security may be
shaping future democratic participation and civic life in the United States. We
address this gap in the research by empirically examining the long-term
effects of the new school discipline regime in two ways. The first is at the
individual level, as it considers students’ individual experiences with school
discipline. Here we examine whether a history of suspension—the most com-
mon form of school punishment—relates to students’ future civic roles.
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102 Youth & Society 47(1)
We hypothesize that: 1) students who have been suspended are less likely
to vote and volunteer than others in future years; and 2) this effect is most
pronounced for youth of color. Our second test is a school-level test that
looks at school practices, hypothesizing that individuals who attend schools
with rigid security mechanisms, such as police officers, metal detectors, sur-
veillance cameras, and harsh punishment policies, are less likely to vote and
volunteer than others in the future.
Method
Using data from the Add Health survey, we evaluate the long-term influence
of school discipline and security on civic participation. The Add Health data
include interviews of youth, school administrators, and parents during the
1994-1995 school year, when a nationally representative sample of adoles-
cents were in Grades 7 to 12; the study follows up with them multiple times,
through a fourth wave of interviews, completed in 2007-2008.
The Add Health study is compiled by the University of North Carolina
(UNC) Population Center and funded by a number of agencies (including
the National Science Foundation [NSF], National Institute of Mental
Health [NIMH], Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], and
National Institutes of Health [NIH]). It is a longitudinal, nationally rep-
resentative sample of adolescents who were in Grades 7 to 12 in the
1994-1995 school year. It includes a cluster sample of 80 high schools
selected from a sampling frame of 26,666, and their feeder schools.
Within these schools, 90,118 students completed in-school question-
naires, and an administrator from each school completed an administra-
tor questionnaire. Of these students, 20,745 were randomly selected to
complete in-home interviews at multiple times (the fourth wave of data
is now complete), as were their parents. The UNC Population Center
provides wave-specific sampling weights that adjust for unequal proba-
bility of selection, thus offering a nationally representative view of ado-
lescents’ experiences.
We use all cases of adolescents who have complete data from in-school
Wave 1 questionnaires, Wave 1 and Wave 2 school administrator interviews,
in-home Wave 1 questionnaires, in-home Wave 1 parental questionnaires, in-
home Wave 3 questionnaires, and in-home Wave 4 questionnaires (n = 9,006
for Wave 3; n = 7,361 for Wave 4). The Wave 1 data were collected in 1994-
1995, Wave 2 data in 1996, Wave 3 in 2001-2002, and Wave 4 data in
2007-2008.
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Kupchik and Catlaw 103
Dependent Variables
To assess political and civic participation as adults, we look at voting and
volunteering behaviors at two different time periods, using data from both
Wave 3 (collected in 2001-2002) and Wave 4 (collected in 2008-2009); our
inclusion of measures of both voting and volunteering follows precedent in
prior research, particularly McFarland and Thomas (2006). The Wave 3 data
are collected when some of the respondents are just old enough to vote, as
they are aged 18 to 26 years at that time; thus, these data allow us to view
early adult behaviors. The Wave 4 data offer a different view, as the respon-
dents are aged 25 to 33 years and no longer going through the final stages of
transition to adulthood.
There are two Wave 4 variables that relate to our research question. Each
comes from an ordinal-scaled question. One asks “How often do you usually
vote in local or statewide elections?” and is coded from 1 (never) to 4
(always). The second asks “In the past 12 months, about how many hours did
you spend on volunteer or community service work?” and is coded from 1 (0
hours) to 6 (160 hours or more).
We selected Wave 3 variables that mirror the available Wave 4 variables;
thus, we have three dependent variables from the Wave 3 data. Each of them
is dichotomous, where a value of 1 indicates a response of “yes” (“no”
responses = 0) to each of the following questions: “Are you registered to
vote?” “Did you vote in the most recent presidential election?” and “During
the last 12 months did you perform any unpaid volunteer or community ser-
vice work?”
Independent Variables
To test our hypotheses at both the individual and school levels, we include
variables for school security and discipline measured at each level of aggre-
gation. Our individual-level variable is dichotomous, indicating whether each
respondent had ever been suspended from school (by Wave 1).
We include several school-level variables that indicate schools’ security
policies and punishment responses to different misbehaviors. The following
dichotomous variables are derived from the Wave 1 school administrator sur-
veys (variable names are in parentheses):
 Whether students in any grade may not leave school grounds (closed
campus);
 Whether students in any grade must obey a dress code (dress code);
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104 Youth & Society 47(1)
 Whether a student who is caught on a first offense of cheating is sus-
pended or expelled (cheating punishment);
 Whether a student who is caught on a first offense of fighting is sus-
pended or expelled (fighting punishment);
 Whether a student who is caught on a first offense of “verbally abusing
a teacher” is suspended or expelled (verbal punishment);
 Whether a student who is caught on a first offense of smoking is sus-
pended or expelled (smoking punishment).
We also include several indicators from the Wave 2 school administrator
survey:
 Whether there is a security officer or police officer on duty during
school hours (officer);
 Whether students walk through metal detectors as they enter the build-
ing (metal detectors);
 Whether the school has surveillance cameras (surveillance);
 Whether students are prohibited from wearing “certain colors,” or
whether “bandanas or other gang paraphernalia” are prohibited (anti-
gang rules).
Because our research questions include consideration of racial disparities
in the effects of punishment, we include both main effects and interaction
terms for race/ethnicity. The main effects are a series of dichotomous vari-
ables indicating a respondent’s self-identified racial/ethnic group, with cate-
gories for Hispanic, Black, American Indian, Asian, and Other (White youth
are excluded as a contrast category). We include two interaction terms as
well: Black respondent × Ever suspended, and Hispanic respondent × Ever
suspended. These variables test whether the effects of suspension on future
civic participation differ for Black and Hispanic youth compared with other
youth; we use only these two racial/ethnic categories because they include
the youth who have been found in prior research to suffer most from dispro-
portionate school discipline.
One of the most significant challenges to our analyses is the need to factor
out the underlying propensity of students to participate in civic life, regard-
less of school discipline and security. To reduce the potential influence of
such confounding factors, we include many independent variables that con-
trol for factors found by prior research to shape civic participation. These
include the respondent’s age at Wave 1 interview, the respondent’s sex (coded
female = 1), whether the respondent’s primary language is not English,
parental education level (coded for the highest level either parent reached,
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Kupchik and Catlaw 105
with 1 = less than high school and 5 = graduate education), respondent’s
grades (measured as the mean, scored where 1 = A and 4 = F, of English, his-
tory/social studies, math, and science), whether the respondent does not live
with his or her mother, whether the respondent does not live with his or her
father, and whether the respondent expresses an interest in going to college.
The models include type of area (variables for suburban and rural, with a
contrast of urban), the school’s average attendance (measured ordinally, from
1 = 95% or more to 5 = 75%-79%), the school’s average class size, and
whether it is a public school. We include a measure of how often a respondent
attended religious services in the last 12 months, ranging from 1 (never) to 4
(once a week or more). We also include a measure of the respondents’ par-
ents’ civic participation, measured as the sum of the following activities in
which his or her parents report participating: parent/teacher organization,
military veterans’ organization, labor union, sports/bowling team, and civic
or other social organization.
We compute indices intended to control for characteristics and perceptions
of respondents that may shape their community involvement; each index was
formed after exploratory factor analysis, and each has moderate to high reli-
ability (Cronbach’s alpha values are reported below). One measures the
extent to which each respondent sees his or her school as a community; this
has a Cronbach’s alpha of .7618, and is the mean (from 1 = strongly agree to
5 = strongly disagree) of responses about whether the respondent feels close
to people at the school, feels like a part of the school, is happy to be at his or
her school, and feels safe at his or her school. We also include respondents’
answers to whether they feel that teachers at the school “treat students fairly,”
recoded so that 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree.
Another variable measures autonomy from respondents’ parents, using the
sum of the number of the following the respondents report being able to
decide on: a weekend curfew, who to “hang around with,” what to wear, how
much TV to watch, which TV programs to watch, when to go to bed on week
nights, and what to eat (Cronbach’s α = .9431). Following McFarland and
Thomas (2006), we include a variable measuring the range of discussions
respondents have with their parents, measured as the sum of the following
topics each respondent reports discussing with either his or her mother or
father (each measured separately): Someone he or she is dating or a party
attended, personal problems, and school work or grades. Another index mea-
sures low self-esteem by taking the mean response to several statements
about respondents’ feelings toward themselves where 1 = strongly agree and
5 = strongly disagree: “you have a lot of good qualities,” “you are physically
fit,” “you have a lot to be proud of,” “you like yourself just the way you are,”
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106 Youth & Society 47(1)
“you feel like you are doing everything just about right,” “you feel socially
accepted,” and “you feel loved and wanted” (Cronbach’s α = .8474).
Furthermore, we created an index that sums the number of statements
indicating neighborhood bonds to which respondents agreed (Cronbach’s α =
.6017): knowing most people in the neighborhood, stopping to talk on the
street with a neighbor, that people in the neighborhood look out for each
other, using a recreation center in the neighborhood, feeling safe there, being
happy living there, and being unhappy if he or she had to leave the neighbor-
hood. In earlier analyses, we included a variable for whether the respondent’s
parent reports that the respondent has ever been diagnosed with a learning
disability or is in special education classes. This variable caused a problem
with multicollinearity with our variable for suspension, which relates directly
to our hypotheses. As a result, we remove it from the current analyses, though
the connection between learning disabilities, suspension, and civic participa-
tion remains important to consider in future work.
We also use several variables to control for respondent drug use and delin-
quency to account for the fact that students who are suspended may be differ-
ent than other students in ways that are likely to also affect their future
democratic participation. These variables include the natural logarithm of the
number of times the respondent reports that he or she has used each of the
following variables (with a different variable for each substance): marijuana,
cocaine, inhalants, and other drugs. We created a delinquency index, com-
puted as the mean ordinal responses (along a scale of 0 = never to 3 = 5 or
more times) indicating the frequency of respondents committing each of 14
different offenses and misbehaviors over the past 12 months (Cronbach’s α =
.8314): graffiti, damage to property, lying to parents, theft from a store, fight-
ing, injuring someone badly, car theft, theft (more than US$50), burglary,
threat with a weapon, selling drugs, petty theft (less than US$50), group
fight, and creating a public disturbance.
Following the primary results of McFarland and Thomas (2006), we
include a series of dichotomous variables indicating respondents’ member-
ship in varying student activities: honors society, student council, future
farmers of America, performing arts, news or yearbook, academic clubs,
sports teams, and other clubs.
One complication to our analysis is the potential mediating effect of incar-
ceration: Students who are suspended in school are at elevated risk of future
incarceration (Fabelo et al., 2011), and those who are incarcerated are often
disenfranchised, unable to vote years after their incarceration (Manza &
Uggen, 2008). To better measure the direct effect of school discipline on
future democratic participation, we control for incarceration. For Wave 3
analyses, we include a Wave 3 variable measuring whether respondents had
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Kupchik and Catlaw 107
ever been incarcerated based on an adult conviction; for Wave 4 analyses, we
use the most similar variable, which considers whether respondents had been
incarcerated for at least a year after age 18. We present descriptive statistics
for all variables in Table 1.
A second complication is the possibility that suspension is a mediating
mechanism rather than a direct contributor to future political and civic par-
ticipation. That is, students who are more deviant than others are at greater
risk of suspension, and it is possible that suspension mediates the effect of
deviance on participation. In other words, delinquent behavior triggers sus-
pension, which, in turn, may contribute to political and civic disengagement.
This poses not only an important methodological concern but also an alterna-
tive conceptual basis for empirical inquiry with potentially distinctive policy
implications.
Though the mediating effects of suspension are not a concern raised by the
prior research that guides our theoretical framework and research questions
here, it is clearly an important methodological issue for our analyses. To
directly address this issue, we perform several robustness checks to supple-
ment our analyses, including propensity score modeling, structural equation
modeling (SEM), and a Baron and Kenny (1986) mediation test. The results
of each of these, which we describe briefly below, broadly support our mod-
eling strategy by finding that suspension is not a consistent mediator of devi-
ance’s effect on suspension, nor is the effect of suspension due to measured
differences among youth who are suspended versus not suspended. As such,
we conclude below that evidence of suppressive effects of suspension on
future political and civic engagement of youth—particularly when combined
with myriad other negative effects of suspension—advise against the use of
suspension and in favor of alternative disciplinary tools when addressing
delinquent or deviant school-place behavior.
Analytic Strategy
To analyze the data, we compute a series of multilevel models, as is appropri-
ate and commonly done when analyzing data at multiple units of analysis
(here, data on students nested within schools; see Rabe-Hesketh & Skrondal,
2008; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). All analyses are done using Stata 12.1,
using the provided wave-specific sample weights. Because the Wave 3
dependent variables are dichotomous, we use random-intercept logistic
regression models to predict whether respondents are registered to vote,
voted in the previous election, or volunteered recently, as measured in Wave
3. The Wave 4 variables are measured differently, along ordinal scales. To
accommodate this level of measurement, we used random-intercept ordinal
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108 Youth & Society 47(1)
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Variables in Multivariate Models.
Variable n M SD % Minimum Maximum
Voted 9,622 35.25 0 1
Registered to vote 9,622 57.59 0 1
Volunteered 9,622 23.62 0 1
Voting frequency 7,820 2.37 1.17 14
Volunteer frequency 7,816 1.66 1.13 16
Ever suspended 9,612 25.31 0 1
Verbal punishment 9,622 39.72 0 1
Cheating punishment 9,622 2.94 0 1
Fighting punishment 9,622 71.94 0 1
Smoking punishment 9,622 45.17 0 1
Dress code 9,622 11.32 0 1
Closed campus 9,622 9.56 0 1
Officer 9,622 44.61 0 1
Metal detectors 9,622 22.71 0 1
Surveillance 9,622 8.97 0 1
Antigang rules 9,622 91.52 0 1
Age 9,617 14.83 1.57 11 20
Female 9,622 51.96 0 1
Foreign language 9,622 11.26 0 1
Hispanic 9,622 16.25 0 1
Black 9,622 22.19 0 1
American Indian 9,622 2.48 0 1
Asian American 9,622 6.80 0 1
Other race/ethnicity 9,622 4.65 0 1
Does not live with mother 9,622 4.28 0 1
Does not live with father 9,622 28.00 0 1
Parent education level 9,622 2.82 1.35 05
Grades 9,430 2.20 0.76 14
School community 9,522 2.23 0.78 15
Teacher fairness 9,520 3.50 1.06 15
Marijuana use (ln) 9,377 0.53 1.17 0 6.86
Cocaine use (ln) 9,529 0.03 0.28 0 6.55
Inhalant use (ln) 9,527 0.09 0.42 0 6.40
Other drug use (ln) 9,500 0.13 0.60 0 6.69
Delinquency scale 9,583 0.29 0.36 03
Wants college 9,591 4.49 0.98 15
Autonomy from parents 9,622 4.99 1.62 07
(continued)
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Kupchik and Catlaw 109
logistic models, using Stata’s gllamm command with an ologit link. Each
model estimates a random intercept for each sampled school. Wave 3 out-
comes are reported in Table 2 and Wave 4 outcomes in Table 3. For each
outcome, we compute models with and without interaction terms; the interac-
tion terms indicate whether the impact of school suspension significantly dif-
fers for Black or Hispanic youth relative to others. All results listed in Tables
2 and 3 refer to the log odds of each outcome. Negative results suggest that
an independent variable is associated with lower likelihood of voting, volun-
teering, and so on, whereas positive results suggest greater likelihood of each
outcome.
Results
Beginning with Wave 3 outcomes, shown in Table 2, we see that being sus-
pended in school decreases the log odds of respondents having voted or hav-
ing volunteered while a young adult; expressed otherwise, the odds of a
Variable n M SD % Minimum Maximum
Discussions with parents 9,622 2.13 1.52 06
Low self-esteem 9,604 1.92 0.59 15
Neighborhood bonds 9,622 5.46 1.44 07
Parents’ civic participation 9,622 0.68 0.90 05
Honor society 9,622 9.45 0 1
Student council 9,622 8.06 0 1
Future farmers 9,622 2.11 0 1
Performing arts 9,622 26.76 0 1
News/yearbook 9,622 10.58 0 1
Academic clubs 9,622 20.12 0 1
Sports teams 9,622 58.69 0 1
Other clubs 9,622 17.16 0 1
Religious service attendance 9,461 2.69 1.39 04
Public school 9,622 83.78 0 1
Suburban 9,622 50.67 0 1
Rural 9,622 19.73 0 1
Average attendance 9,622 1.98 0.89 15
Average class size 9,622 26.57 5.82 10 38
Prior incarceration—Wave 3 7,619 0.60 0 1
Prior incarceration—Wave 4 7,858 1.90 0 1
Table 1. (continued)
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110 Youth & Society 47(1)
Table 2. Random-Intercept Logistic Regression of Wave 3 Civic Participation on
School Discipline and Security Indicators and Control Variables (n = 9,006), Log
Odds Reported.
Voted Registered to vote Volunteered
Full model Full model Full model
Ever suspended 0.13* 0.05 0.09 0.06 0.19* 0.20
Verbal punishment 0.10 0.10 0.10 0.10 0.09 0.09
Cheating punishment 0.42* 0.42* 0.23 0.23 0.29 0.29
Fighting punishment 0.02 0.02 0.08 0.08 0.10 0.09
Smoking punishment 0.07 0.07 0.02 0.01 0.17* 0.17*
Dress code 0.06 0.06 0.17 0.17 0.13 0.13
Closed campus 0.24 0.24 0.03 0.03 0.22 0.23
Officer 0.03 0.03 0.07 0.07 0.05 0.05
Metal detectors 0.12 0.12 0.10 0.10 0.13 0.13
Surveillance 0.10 0.10 0.10 0.10 0.12 0.12
Antigang rules 0.01 0.01 0.03 0.02 0.08 0.08
Black × Suspended 0.19 0.22 0.07
Hispanic × Suspended 0.05 0.19 0.22
Age 0.13*** 0.13*** 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.03 0.03
Female 0.05 0.06 0.09 0.09 0.03 0.03
Foreign language 0.53*** 0.53*** 0.56*** 0.56*** 0.06 0.06
Hispanic 0.12 0.12 0.07 0.01 0.05 0.09
Black 0.28*** 0.34*** 0.19** 0.27** 0.00 0.03
American Indian 0.21 0.20 0.28 0.28 0.25 0.26
Asian American 0.53*** 0.53*** 0.31** 0.31** 0.01 0.01
Other race/ethnicity 0.30* 0.30* 0.40** 0.40** 0.27 0.27
Does not live with
mother
0.13 0.13 0.10 0.11 0.05 0.05
Does not live with father 0.05 0.05 0.06 0.06 0.01 0.01
Parent education level 0.14*** 0.14*** 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.18*** 0.18***
Grades 0.20*** 0.20*** 0.14*** 0.12*** 0.43*** 0.43***
School community 0.02 0.02 0.00 0.01 0.01 0.01
Teacher fairness 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.03 0.03
Marijuana use (ln) 0.03 0.03 0.04 0.04 0.06 0.06
Cocaine use (ln) 0.04 0.04 0.01 0.00 0.43 0.43
Inhalant use (ln) 0.03 0.03 0.02 0.02 0.03 0.02
Other drug use (ln) 0.05 0.06 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.00
Delinquency scale 0.10 0.10 0.01 0.01 0.02 0.02
Wants college 0.10** 0.10** 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.07 0.07
Autonomy from parents 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01
Discussions with parents 0.03* 0.03* 0.02 0.02 0.03 0.03
Low self-esteem 0.04 0.04 0.06 0.06 0.15** 0.15**
Neighborhood bonds 0.06** 0.06** 0.05** 0.05** 0.04 0.04
Parents’ civic
participation
0.09** 0.09** 0.11*** 0.11*** 0.11*** 0.11***
Honor society 0.20* 0.20* 0.30** 0.30** 0.20* 0.20*
Student council 0.01 0.01 0.13 0.13 0.09 0.09
(continued)
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Kupchik and Catlaw 111
Voted Registered to vote Volunteered
Full model Full model Full model
Future farmers 0.01 0.01 0.14 0.13 0.08 0.08
Performing arts 0.18** 0.18 0.15** 0.15** 0.32*** 0.32***
News/yearbook 0.00 0.00 0.04 0.04 0.08 0.07
Academic clubs 0.07 0.07 0.05 0.05 0.12 0.11
Sports teams 0.03 0.03 0.01 0.01 0.19** 0.19**
Other clubs 0.16** 0.17** 0.13 0.13 0.23*** 0.23**
Religious service
attendance
0.11*** 0.11*** 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.09***
Public school 0.30** 0.30** 0.11 0.10 0.10 0.10
Suburban 0.10 0.11 0.11 0.11 0.07 0.07
Rural 0.17 0.17 0.30* 0.30* 0.00 0.00
Average attendance 0.07 0.07 0.06 0.05 0.10 0.09
Average class size 0.02* 0.02* 0.01 0.01 0.00 0.00
Prior incarceration 0.72 0.71 0.22 0.21 0.71 0.71
Constant 3.93*** 3.95*** 1.87*** 1.90*** 0.78 0.79
Random intercept (SD) 0.21 0.21 0.24 0.24 0.15 0.15
Log likelihood 5,513.252 5,512.109 5,812.217 5,808.935 4,542.469 4,541.556
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Table 2. (continued)
student voting years later are 12% lower among those suspended, and the
odds of a student volunteering are 18% lower. In Figure 1, we show the pre-
dicted probability of each of these three outcomes as a function of suspension
while holding other variables constant; here the black bars represent the pre-
dicted probability for youth who were not suspended, overall, and the gray
bars for youth who were suspended. These results are modest, as they do not
remain once we add interaction terms for Suspension × Black, or Suspension ×
Hispanic; some reduction in strength of effect is to be expected, due to the
inevitable multicollinearity that comes along with interaction terms. With
regard to the school-level measures of security and discipline, we see that
schools’ punitive responses to cheating reduces the likelihood of having
voted, but that punitive responses to smoking increases the likelihood of vol-
unteering. No other measure of school discipline or security shapes future
civic participation based on these Wave 3 outcome measures.
The results for race and ethnicity suggest that Black young adults have
higher log odds of voting and being registered to vote. However, as shown by
the interaction terms, the effect of suspension does not significantly vary for
Black respondents or Hispanic respondents, relative to its effect on others.
Figure 1 also illustrates the predicted probability of each Wave 3 outcome
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112 Youth & Society 47(1)
Table 3. Random-Intercept Ordinal Logistic Regression of Wave 4 Civic
Participation on School Discipline and Security Indicators and Control Variables,
Log Odds Reported (n = 7,361).
Voting frequency Volunteer frequency
Full model Full model
Ever suspended 0.11 0.21* 0.06 0.04
Verbal punishment 0.11 0.11 0.18* 0.18*
Cheating punishment 0.14 0.14 0.15 0.15
Fighting punishment 0.06 0.06 0.06 0.06
Smoking punishment 0.13 0.13 0.00 0.00
Dress code 0.12 0.12 0.06 0.05
Closed campus 0.18 0.19 0.12 0.11
Officer 0.17 0.17 0.17 0.17
Metal detectors 0.34** 0.34** 0.00 0.00
Surveillance 0.28* 0.27* 0.10 0.10
Antigang rules 0.27* 0.27* 0.05 0.05
Black × Suspended 0.09 0.15
Hispanic × Suspended 0.40** 0.30
Age 0.09*** 0.09*** 0.02 0.02
Female 0.13** 0.13** 0.08 0.08
Foreign language 0.34** 0.34** 0.29* 0.30*
Hispanic 0.02 0.08 0.32** 0.38***
Black 0.51*** 0.50*** 0.18* 0.21*
American Indian 0.17 0.18 0.00 0.01
Asian American 0.70*** 0.70*** 0.18 0.18
Other race/ethnicity 0.18 0.18 0.14 0.14
Does not live with mother 0.04 0.05 0.13 0.13
Does not live with father 0.01 0.01 0.03 0.03
Parent education level 0.17*** 0.17*** 0.10*** 0.10***
Grades 0.15*** 0.14*** 0.28*** 0.28***
School community 0.02 0.02 0.05 0.05
Teacher fairness 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01
Marijuana use (ln) 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.00
Cocaine use (ln) 0.02 0.01 0.17 0.16
Inhalant use (ln) 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01
Other drug use (ln) 0.07 0.07 0.05 0.05
Delinquency scale 0.02 0.03 0.05 0.04
Wants college 0.16*** 0.16*** 0.07* 0.07*
Autonomy from parents 0.02 0.02 0.01 0.01
(continued)
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Kupchik and Catlaw 113
specifically for Black youth and for Hispanic youth who have been sus-
pended. Though there is variation across these predicted probabilities, the
differences are not statistically significant.
The results for the control variables mirror results from prior research. In
sum, we find that respondents whose parents are more educated, whose par-
ents participate in civic activities, who attain high grades in school, who
speak English as their primary language, who desire to go to college, who
Voting frequency Volunteer frequency
Full model Full model
Discussions with parents 0.03* 0.03* 0.08*** 0.08***
Low self-esteem 0.08 0.08 0.03 0.03
Neighborhood bonds 0.03 0.03 0.04* 0.04*
Parents’ civic participation 0.10*** 0.10*** 0.10*** 0.10***
Honor society 0.17* 0.17* 0.27** 0.27**
Student council 0.01 0.01 0.24** 0.24**
Future farmers 0.10 0.09 0.08 0.08
Performing arts 0.18** 0.18** 0.19** 0.19**
News/yearbook 0.11 0.11 0.03 0.03
Academic clubs 0.04 0.04 0.06 0.06
Sports teams 0.02 0.02 0.08 0.08
Other clubs 0.15* 0.14* 0.30*** 0.29***
Religious service
attendance
0.12*** 0.12*** 0.13*** 0.13***
Public school 0.25* 0.25* 0.04 0.04
Suburban 0.01 0.01 0.04 0.04
Rural 0.13 0.13 0.13 0.13
Average attendance 0.01 0.01 0.07 0.07
Average class size 0.01 0.01 0.00 0.00
Prior incarceration 1.30*** 1.30*** 0.60* 0.60*
Constant 1 2.05*** 2.03*** 1.24** 1.23**
Constant 2 3.28*** 3.26*** 2.67*** 2.66***
Constant 3 4.14*** 4.12*** 3.28*** 3.26***
Constant 4 3.93*** 3.92***
Constant 5 4.61*** 4.59***
Random intercept
(variance)
0.07 0.07 0.05 0.05
Log likelihood 9,526.410 9,523.061 7,670.389 7,668.941
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Table 3. (continued)
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114 Youth & Society 47(1)
have high neighborhood bonds, who participate in honor society, performing
arts, and other school clubs, who attend religious services frequently, and
who are older have higher log odds of at least two of the measured civic par-
ticipation outcomes. For the sake of brevity, given our long list of control
variables, we refrain from a full discussion of the results for these variables.
All results are listed in Tables 2 and 3.
Table 3 lists the results for the regressions of Wave 4 outcomes. Again,
being suspended has a long-term effect on voting, though not on volunteer-
ing. Here we see an effect that approaches but does not reach statistical sig-
nificance (p = .064) in the first model predicting voting frequency, and a
statistically significant effect once we introduce the interaction terms, where
the odds of a respondent being one level higher on the ordinal voting fre-
quency measure are 18.6% lower if he or she was suspended. We also find
some unexpected results for the school-level indicators of security and disci-
pline. Rather than having a suppressive effect, as expected, the presence of
metal detectors and surveillance cameras is associated with greater log odds
of voting frequently. The presence of antigang rules is negatively related to
the log odds of voting frequently.
Regarding race and ethnicity, Black and Hispanic respondents are less
likely to volunteer frequently than Whites, and Black respondents are more
likely to vote frequently than Whites. We find that the interaction between
Hispanic and being suspended is positive for voting frequency, meaning that
Hispanic respondents who were suspended as youth are more likely than oth-
ers to vote frequently, which contradicts our hypotheses.
0.000
0.100
0.200
0.300
0.400
0.500
0.600
0.700
Estimated Probaility
Not suspended -all students Suspended -all students
Suspended-Black students Suspended -Hispanic students
Voting Registering to Vote Volunteeering
Figure 1. Estimated probability of Wave 3 outcomes, by suspension and race/
ethnicity.
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Kupchik and Catlaw 115
Results for our control variables are similar to our results in Wave 3, with
several expected relationships observed. Respondents are more likely to vote
and volunteer frequently if they speak English as their primary language,
have parents with high levels of education and who participate in civic activi-
ties, attain high grades, want to go to college, discuss a wide range of topics
with their parents, are members of honor society, performing arts clubs, or
other clubs, and attend religious services frequently.
Taken together, the results from our analyses at both waves display a pat-
tern that supports one of our hypotheses, but not others. We find that youth
who are suspended at school have lower odds of future civic and political
participation while controlling for several alternative explanations. The
results thus suggest that firsthand experiences with school discipline—being
suspended—have a suppressive effect on future civic and political participa-
tion. We observe these results in both waves, suggesting that the effect lasts
beyond the young adult years and can shape long-term behaviors well into
adulthood. Though the effect of suspension is not significant in a majority of
our models, the fact that we do find this effect in multiple models illustrates
an important influence, as predicted by the literature, and suggests the need
for further analyses. At the same time, we do not find the expected relation-
ships for school-level security and discipline. Here there are few significant
results and some that run contrary to our expectations. We also find no evi-
dence that the effect of suspension varies significantly by race or ethnicity.
Robustness Check
As we state above, we extended our analyses with a series of tests to confirm
the robustness of our results. Our concern was that the primary causal factor
was actually respondents’ deviance, with suspension acting as a mediator
between deviance and future political and civic participation. To consider this
possibility, we first performed propensity score matching analysis to deter-
mine whether differences between suspended youth and not suspended youth
(including deviance) affect our results. Using caliper matching (caliper =
0.01) with Stata’s psmatch2 command, with all independent variables other
than suspension as predictors of the propensity for suspension, we found sig-
nificant differences in voting, volunteering, and volunteer frequency across
matched pairs, with suspended youth less likely to participate in each activity,
which confirms our regression results. We further probed this possibility
through the use of SEM1 and Baron and Kenny (1986) mediation tests. Here
we used five measures of youth deviance—delinquency, marijuana use,
cocaine use, inhalant use, and other drug use—in exploring whether their
effects on future civic participation are mediated by suspension. These
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116 Youth & Society 47(1)
analyses (results available on request) demonstrated that in our five models,
there are only 2 (of a possible 25, given the five independent variables in each
of five models) observed mediating effects, which is approximately what one
would expect from chance alone using an α = .05. We find that the effect of
delinquency on voting is slightly mediated by suspension (indirect effect =
–.01) and that the effect of marijuana use on volunteering is slightly mediated
by suspension (indirect effect = 0.003). The Baron and Kenny test found
that the proportions of the effects of delinquency on voting and of marijuana
use on volunteering that are due to suspension are relatively small (.184 and
.122, respectively).
Finally, we computed additional structural equation models to determine
whether bonds to teachers, participation in extracurricular activities, delin-
quent activity, and subsequent incarceration mediate the relationship between
suspension and future civic and political participation. Again we found no
evidence of substantial mediation. The direct effect of suspension on each
dependent variable remained statistically significant in these models despite
the presence of potential mediators. Again this robustness test confirms and
corroborates our regression models.
Discussion
By finding that a history of suspension is related to decreased odds of future
civic participation, our research extends previous findings in a new direction.
The education research literature is clear that overreliance on suspension is
an ineffective, counterproductive practice in terms of enhancing school safety
and improving important educational and related outcomes. Not only does it
fail to advance these stated ambitions but suspension is also associated with
a range of negative outcomes, such as higher rates of dropping out and dimin-
ished academic achievement (Fabelo et al., 2011; Skiba et al., 2006). It also
fails to reduce the likelihood of future disciplinary action (Way, 2011). Yet to
our knowledge, no prior research has considered how suspension shapes stu-
dents’ future civic participation. Thus, though we do not find a suppressive
effect of suspension in all of our models, these results still add an important
and previously overlooked element to the literature by uncovering an addi-
tional negative consequence of school suspension, observed at multiple
points in time: both during young adult years and several years later.
Following prior research, we theorize that the observed negative effect of
suspension is because suspension short-circuits dialogue and student involve-
ment; it removes a student from the school rather than responding construc-
tively and therapeutically to problematic behavior. Research on suspension
finds that it is administered in ways that alienate students from the school and
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Kupchik and Catlaw 117
from the school’s authority structure, leading them to view school staff as
unfair, arbitrary, and uncaring (Kupchik, 2010; Lyons & Drew, 2006). We
interpret the results of our analysis to suggest that this practice teaches stu-
dents a lesson about authority and their powerlessness relative to governing
bodies. To the extent that students learn this lesson and apply it to their future
roles as citizens, they may be less likely to vote and volunteer because they
see little opportunity to actively shape governance or community life. School
punishment, thus, may socialize students into cynicism, disengagement, and
apathy.
Our results are unsurprising because prior research finds that (a) civic par-
ticipation is taught through inclusive educational climates that encourage
participation and (b) suspension tends to reduce student participation and
contribute to nonparticipatory, noninclusive school climates. Though unsur-
prising and modest, these results are important, for this is the first empirical
effort of which we are aware to test the long-term effects of school suspen-
sion on civic and political participation. Indeed, our results discouragingly
suggest that schools’ recent shift toward vigorous enforcement of harsh dis-
cipline may be detrimental to the nation’s long-term civic and political health.
Our analyses strengthen existing calls to reduce school’s reliance on suspen-
sion, and invest instead on evidence-based practices such as positive behav-
ioral supports, inclusive social climates, and behavioral counseling in schools
(see Losen & Martinez, 2013).
Contrary to our expectations, however, our study provides little evidence
regarding school-level effects of security and discipline on future civic par-
ticipation. That is, attending a school with police or security officers, metal
detectors, harsh punishment policies, and other criminal justice–oriented
practices has little to no effect on the likelihood of voting and volunteering in
the future. On one hand, it may be the case that students are relatively unfazed
by school discipline and security efforts. Recent research finds that many
students appreciate having rigid security and tough punishment policies
(Kupchik, 2010). This appreciation may mean that these policies have little
long-term effect on the behaviors of most students and that their individual
experiences with school discipline are what matters instead. On the other
hand, the lack of results may be due to limitations in our measures of school
security. The variables to which we are limited are somewhat vague, which
may hide actual long-term suppressive effects of security on civic and politi-
cal participation. For example, despite drastic differences between security
guards (who are employed by and report to schools, have no arrest power,
and usually do not carry weapons) and police officers stationed in schools,
the two are measured together by a single question in the Add Health inter-
views. Future research should use more specific and careful measurements of
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118 Youth & Society 47(1)
school security to better test whether school-level discipline and security
shape long-term civic participation.
We also find it surprising that the effects of school suspension are not
experienced more acutely among Black and Hispanic respondents, as indi-
cated by nonsignificance of our interaction terms. It is important to keep in
mind that despite this result, Black and Hispanic youth do still suffer the
negative consequences of school suspension at disproportionately high rates.
We find school suspension to have an overall negative effect on civic and
political participation, even while controlling for race/ethnicity; because
Black and Hispanic youth are far more likely than White youth to be sus-
pended, they bear the brunt of this overall negative effect far more often than
do White students. In other words, the effects of school suspension are felt by
all youth at somewhat equal intensity, though Black and Hispanic youth are
far more often exposed to this effect.
Despite the importance of our findings, there are a number of limitations
to our analyses that should be addressed by future research. Above we refer
to the vague measurements of school-level discipline and security. Another
data limitation is that we are predicting a very narrow range of political and
civic participation variables: voting, registering to vote, and volunteering.
Future analyses that consider other types of civic and political participation,
such as participating in social and professional networks, being engaged in
political life (e.g., going to political demonstrations, donating money to polit-
ical causes, etc.), and building social networks with fellow members of one’s
community more broadly, would greatly enhance our understanding of the
long-term ramifications of school discipline and security. Analyses, in par-
ticular, should build from the literature on volunteering (Wilson, 2000) to
explore the relationship between specific school-place activities and various
forms of volunteering to see how consistent the effects of suspension and
other disciplinary policies are. Furthermore, by considering only conven-
tional forms of political engagement such as voting, our analyses are unable
to measure less formal methods of political engagement and expressions of
social capital that are more commonly found in marginalized communities,
such as low-income African American and Hispanic communities (see
Suttles, 1968).
A final data limitation is that our measures of school discipline and secu-
rity come from Wave 1 and Wave 2 data, collected during 1994-1996, early
in the chronology of the buildup of school discipline and security. Although
we have sufficient variation in students’ experiences to model their effects,
we are mindful of the fact that results may be somewhat different if measures
were collected in 2014, when harsh punishments, rigid rules, and criminal
justice–oriented security measures are more commonplace across the United
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Kupchik and Catlaw 119
States and in light of the potentially unique patterns of political and civic
behavior among the “DotNet” generation (Zukin et al., 2006). These limita-
tions, though, are fairly minor; though they may reduce the clarity of our
results, the fact that we have such findings using a large, nationally represen-
tative, longitudinal database leaves us confident in our results and
conclusions.
This study also raises important questions for future research. First, though
the prior research suggests such a direct effect, it is necessary to continue to
probe these results by considering other mediating effects that we are not able
to include here. In particular, qualitative research strategies would be espe-
cially helpful for uncovering how former students who had experienced school
punishment perceive and approach civic engagement. Second, notwithstand-
ing the complex etiology of deviance and delinquency (Loeber, Burke, &
Pardini, 2009) and the many salient structural factors of school context that
may contribute to both delinquency and political and civic behavior (Anderson,
1982; Ehman, 1980; Zimmerman & Rees, 2014), it is important for future
research to focus on the factors that precipitate suspension and how these fac-
tors shape future political and civic participation. Though we explore the pos-
sibility that deviance shapes participation indirectly through suspension (and
do not find compelling evidence that this is the case), our ability to test for
such effects is limited by the available data. Further exploration into this ques-
tion would help to flesh out the varying ways in which school punishment and
climate can shape students’ future roles as citizens.
In sum, the results of our analyses make an important and substantive
contribution to the literatures on school discipline and on civic and political
participation, despite the fact that our hypotheses for racial/ethnic interaction
and school-level effects are not supported. In the first empirical test of the
long-term effects of suspension on civic participation, we find that being sus-
pended is associated with reduced odds of voting both in young adult years
and beyond, and on volunteering while a young adult. When joined with
existing evidence of the negative or null effects of suspension on youth, this
research counsels against the use of suspension and in favor of alternative
disciplinary tools when addressing delinquent and deviant school-place
behavior. More fundamentally, this study adds political and civic participa-
tion to the agenda of issues scholars, policy makers, and communities should
consider as they debate how best to govern schools today.
Acknowledgment
This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard
Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant
P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health
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120 Youth & Society 47(1)
and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special
acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in
the original design. Persons interested in obtaining Data Files from Add Health should
contact Add Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina
Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Stree, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 (addhealth@
unc.edu). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported, in part, by a
National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government
(MEST; NRF-2011-220–B00027) and Arizona State University’s New American
University Exemplar Fund.
Note
1. Structural equation models are less desirable than random-intercept regression
because SEM is less able to accommodate the number of independent variables
as well as the longitudinal, hierarchical nature of our data. We performed these
analyses as robustness checks, not as primary analytical tools.
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Author Biographies
Aaron Kupchik is a Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department
of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. He is author of
Homeroom Security: School discipline in an age of fear (NYU Press, 2010) and
Judging Juveniles: Prosecuting adolescents in adult and juvenile courts (NYU Press,
2006).
Thomas J. Catlaw is Associate Professor and Frank and June Sackton Chair in Public
Administration in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
He is the author of Fabricating the People: Politics and administration in the biopo-
litical state (University of Alabama Press, 2007) and Theories of Public Organization
(with Robert Denhardt, Cengage, 2014).
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